Dried Fruit-Healthy or Hype?

February 12, 2016

Many of you have heard me say that when that candy bar in your desk drawer is calling your name at snack time…well…there’s a better choice. For many of us, that choice is dried fruit.

But is it so great a choice in the end?

As snacks go, it can be dodgy, to be honest. While dried fruits are concentrated sources of minerals like iron, copper, potassium, beta carotene and fiber, they are also rich sources of sugar…and calories.

While dried fruit can be a healthy addition to a diet, I would advise keeping the portions small, no more than 2 tablespoons as a serving.  And here’s why:

Your Teeth

Dried fruit can be especially cavity-promoting. Not only a source of fructose, some dried fruit is also coated in additional sugar to keep the fruit from sticking together. That’s a lot of sugar. On top of that, the sticky texture of dried fruit holds the sugar on your teeth longer than fresh fruit would. So if you can’t live without it, try to brush and floss as soon as possible after snacking on those raisins to remove the sugar from the surface of your teeth. 

Your Tummy

Dried fruit is a really rich source of fiber. While we need fiber in our diets to help regulate intestinal function, too much of it can bother our bellies (our intestines really, but belly sounded so much cuter), especially if we don’t normally eat a high-fiber diet. Dried fruit can create tummy aches, cramping, bloating, constipation or diarrhea…and make us “musical.”

You can avoid this discomfort by keeping your dried fruit consumption to small amounts each day instead of chowing down on a whole bag of dried apricots.

Your Waistline

It’s easy to overdo dried fruit snacking because it’s so sweet and yummy. It’s easy to just keep eating. And it’s just fruit, after all, right?

Not so fast.

Eating an extra 250 calories a day in the form of dried fruit can contribute to gaining as much as 2 pounds in a month, according to the Mayo Clinic. Yikes!

So how much is a serving? That elusive 2 tablespoons that weighs in at about 60 calories? A serving would look something like this: 8 dried apricots, 3 dates, 2 tablespoons of dried berries or raisins, 1 ½ figs or 3 prunes. That’s a wee portion for any snack and unless you’re in love with the idea of dried fruit, you’re not getting a lot of bang for your buck in my view.

Your Crash

A lot of dried fruit registers high on the glycemic index (which means they can cause your blood sugar to spike quickly). And while that spike helps you to feel energized, you quickly deflate as your blood sugar drops, leaving you feeling shaky and fatigued. Look at raisins. They have a glycemic index of 64 which is pretty high on that scale of 1 to 100, while dates seem to fall in the middle. Prunes, it turns out, are your best bet, hitting the glycemic index at 29.

Your Liver

Yes, your liver. Many commercial dried fruit varieties keep their vibrant colors with the addition of sulfites and other chemical additives. Commercial dried fruit was also once fresh, meaning it was produced under commercial conditions, meaning you’re looking at concentrated pesticide residue levels, unless the dried fruit you choose is organic.

What has this to do with your liver? With commercial dried fruit, your liver gets a double whammy: the fructose in the fruit is concentrated and large amounts of fructose can interfere with the way our liver metabolizes fat, protein and carbohydrate energy; chemicals are foreign to the liver and so it has a really tough time figuring out how to assimilate them. In both cases, your body’s ability to metabolize calories can be disrupted, resulting in weight gain. So in the case of dried fruit, it’s not just the calories.

In the end, while dried fruit has its drawbacks (a lot, in my humble opinion), if your choice is the candy bar in the desk drawer or a handful of dried raisins, you might want to go with the raisins, as long as they are organic.

Fresh is Always Best

If you’re trying to make better choices in your daily life, increasing your fruit intake is probably on your list. Your best bet is always fresh fruit, versus dried. And while I prefer you increase your consumption of veggies over fruit, let’s stick to the topic, shall we?

Fresh whole fruit is a rich source of fructose, to be sure. But this is not the same fructose as the invented-in-a-lab high fructose corn syrup. Fresh fruit supplies just a fraction of the fructose we Americans consume.  You would need to consume 5 bananas, 9 cups of strawberries or 3 apples to take in the same volume of fructose in a 20-ounce soda, just to give you some perspective.

Fresh whole fruit is also a complicated food, made up of more than fructose. Fiber, minerals, vitamins and other nutrients round out fresh fruit making it a yummy addition to any healthy diet.

Oh, one last thing. There is no research that shows a reasonably moderate intake of fresh whole fruit leads to weight gain or has any other undesirable impact on our wellness. In fact, study after study shows that people who eat lots of veggies and fruit tend to be thinner and healthier than those who do not. People who eat their veggies and fruit tend to be health-conscious in lots of ways, from exercise to environmental awareness so truthfully, you can’t lose.

The bad news is that only about 30% of American adults eat fruit twice a day and even fewer (19%) eat veggies twice a day, so we have some real work to do when it comes to our dining habits.